They finished up their lunch and punched back in at the time clock. Corn Mouth had to visit the bathroom. This gave José some time to scout out the cart corrals. He had no intention of training Corn Mouth today. He was going to tell her what he wanted to do, and if she didn’t want to be a part of it, so be it. If she did, well, could she keep a secret? He thought that she could.
Before going outside, he stopped to pick out two reflective vests. All employees who worked carts were required to wear the vests. They were a bright neon yellow, the kind that causes blindness if you stare at them for too long. They were more of a nuisance than anything.
José walked outside through the automatic double-doors and leaned against a brick column. Cart corral’s one and two (the closest to the entrance) were pretty lackluster. There was five carts total, and two of them were the itty-bitties that would need to be at the front of the train. José hated the itty-bitties. He had used one shopping with his mom once and it felt weird pushing it around. It was a kind of self-conscious mind fuckery that made him feel that way. It was like he was announcing to the store that he was there to shop, but only a little. Just a wittle itty-bitty shopping cart for his wittle itty-bitty shopping desires. What if he saw a few things on sale and couldn’t fit them in the itty-bitty cart? How stupid would he look if he had to upgrade to a bigger one? These were the kind of petty dilemmas that drove him into madness.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. Nobody was there. He heard laughing coming from behind him.
“Gotcha,” Corn Mouth said, smiling.
There wasn’t as much corn stuck in her teeth as before, but there still was some, enough for her to earn her nickname. José had an irresistible urge to reach forward and pick her teeth that he held inside of him like a cross-legged child waiting to go pee.
“So, what’s my first lesson: how to push a cart or how to find one?” She cupped her hands around her eyes like binoculars, looking out into the parking lot. “Oh look, there’s one! And there’s one! And—holy shit—there’s another one! I think I got the hang of this.”
José handed her a vest. She seemed very excited to put it on.
“It’s so shiny!”
“Can I be honest with you?” José said.
“Sure! Actually, no, how about you don’t be honest with me. How about you lie all the time.”
Sarcasm wasn’t her second language; it was her first and only language apparently. At least she wasn’t boring. She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head.
“I’m not going to train you today,” he said.
Her shoulders dipped and her face went slack. It almost made José sad because of how disappointed she looked. Maybe he could train her. Not properly, but at least give her the basics while he assembled his cart train. Anything to change this sadder, shorter Corn Mouth.
“What am I going to tell Margie? She’s going to ask, you know. Why aren’t you going to train me, José? Is it because you don’t like me? I saw you at lunch. You didn’t sit next to me or want to talk to me very much.”
“No. No. I do like you. I really do like you.”
Her eyebrows went up a quarter-inch. It might as well have been a mile. He needed to course-correct what he just said. He was stepping in shit and needed to clean off his shoes quickly.
Nice one! Might as well tell her you dream about her naked next. See how she reacts to that. And it wouldn’t even be a lie!
“I can’t train you today because I’m going to try and break Donald’s cart record,” he said.
There was a pause, then: “What cart record are you talking about?” Cart came out as curt, sort of like skirt. “Is this something I should know about? I hate it when everyone else knows something that I don’t. Makes me feel dumb.”
José hadn’t realized it until now, but he had put his hand on Corn Mouth’s shoulder. He was serious about this cart record. Damn serious. Or maybe it was an excuse to touch her. When he told her that he liked her did he really mean it that way? Things were beginning to get all twisty inside of him. He didn’t know if he was nervous about attempting the record or nervous around Corn Mouth because there was this sudden craving to impress her, to be nice to her. It was confusing as hell. Weird teenage shit for sure.
José took a breath. “Here’s the short version of it. Back in 2007—”
“Dang!” Corn Mouth said. “I was only two!”
“Yeah … Me too. So, in 2007, Donald, a great man—a genius—assembled 76 carts together in a line—”
“In a line?”
“Like a train?”
“A train of carts?”
“What did he do with them?”
“I was just about to get to—”
“So tell me!” She turned her feet outward so the rubber edges of her shoes were the only things keeping her up. José did this exact same thing when he was excited.
“He pushed the line of carts into the store,” José said.
“Into the store?”
“He just pushed them in?”
“76 carts, holy shit that’s a lot! He must have been exhausted.”
“And you want to beat him?”
“You’re going to assemble 77 carts and push them with all your might, right into the store?”
“Does anyone else know about this?”
Now her hand was on his shoulder. That part of his skin got all tingly.
“I said I’m in,” she said. “What do you need me to help you with?”
He hadn’t anticipated this. Some kind of help. And from Corn Mouth of all people. He supposed any kind of help was welcome. He didn’t think it would taint the record. She would gather up the carts, but not push them. He needed to be the only one doing the pushing. He hadn’t noticed it until now, but all of the corn was gone except for one speck stuck in-between her bottom front teeth. He found the speck to be sort of cute, like someone wearing a shirt for an hour and not realizing they still had the tag on it. Obliviousness. It was the sharpest arrow in Cupid’s quiver, and José had just been shot with it. Not in the heart, but close. Maybe a lung.
“If you want to help you can help,” José said. He looked around the parking lot for a good place for her to start. “Ah. Ok. You can begin by grabbing all of the tumbleweeds.”
“The carts that aren’t in the corrals.”
“You call them tumbleweeds? That is just too cute. God, José, you must really be bored out here by yourself?”
“It’s a lonely job I guess.”
“Well, I’m here to keep you company. Where do you want me to put the …” She busted out the air quotes. “Tumbleweeds?”
“You can just bring them over to me. I’ll sort through them and pick out the best ones for the train.”
José laughed. He was having way too much fun already. Corn Mouth skipped over to the far side of the parking lot and got to work. There were only a few tumbleweeds scattered around the parking lot. Still, it was less work for him to do while he focused on building the train.